Here’s a rare species – a politician you can trust!

Former Labour cabinet member Alan Johnson promoted his latest book at the Marine Theatre

NATIONAL politics rarely creeps into this column, if at all. After all, it’s called Lyme Matters – matters about Lyme in a town that matters.

From time to time, I have been accused of being further right than Genghis Khan, which is far from the truth, and like all journalists outside the Westminster bubble, I am very wary of all politicians. In fact, I dislike most of them.

When I worked for an international media group in London, I rubbed shoulders with many of them which was not always a pleasant and harmonious experience. In fact, the only politician I had any real respect for was the late Paddy Ashdown.

Before he became leader of the Liberal Democrats, and as MP for Yeovil, he wrote a column for the newspapers I edited and we regularly met for lunch. He was brilliant company.

In more recent times, I met Jeremy Corbyn on a number of occasions through a football charity in which I was involved, which brought inner-city kids together, and I found him to be a most charming man. That doesn’t mean I would vote for him.

Another MP I have a soft spot for is Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) who was very kind to me when I was ill a few years ago and who arranged for a consultancy with a top Harley Street doctor.

And one Labour politician I have always admired is Alan Johnson, said to be the best leader the Labour party never had. Oh, how I wish he had not stood down in 2017.

In fact, after the 2015 election, Johnson could well have been Prime Minister had Labour been able to do a deal with the Lib Dems, rather than joining the Tories in a coalition government. The then PM, Gordon Brown, had agreed to stand down to make way for the postman-cum-politician who was very much a man of the people.

So when the Marine Theatre announced that Mr Johnson was to appear in Lyme to promote his latest book, ‘In My Life’, I quickly booked by press ticket.

Alan Johnson has a very relaxed writing style and his latest book is no exception. It’s not really about his life in politics but about the music that influenced him throughout the ages from a young boy when he harboured dreams of becoming a pop star.

He’s about the same age as me (a little younger perhaps) but the music he wrote of so lovingly was the stuff I was dancing to at the Marine.

He described how he celebrated England winning the football World Cup with thousands in Trafalgar Square. At the same time I celebrated it with my mates and 700 others at the Marine when The Troggs were performing. The chant of “England England” drove them off the stage and went on for an hour.

The second part of the show took the form of a question and answer session and it was inevitable that Brexit would come up. Alan Johnson was a 24 carat, 100 per cent remainer and spearheaded the Labour Party’s remain campaign.

Asked what he would do now, he was unequivocal – respect the referendum and get the hell out of Europe ASAP.

Coming next at the Marine Theatre – cricketer and commentator David Gower – a must for a cricketing fanatic like myself. I’ve booked my seat.

Father of the council and past mayor Stan Williams, a councillor for more than 50 years, offers some friendly advice on the skills of chairing a meeting to deputy mayor Jeff Scowen

Deputy mayor gets an easy ride in the chair

CONGRATULATIONS to Lyme’s enigmatic deputy mayor Jeff Scowen who chaired his first full meeting of Lyme Regis Town Council. He took over the chair on Wednesday as the mayor, Brian Larcombe MBE, was on holiday, as was town clerk John Wright.

I know from personal experience that chairing your first meeting of the full council is not an easy task. I remember my first meeting when I was 35 years old. My knees were definitely knocking under the aldermanic bench.

Sat before me was an eclectic and often bolshy group of experienced councillors with just one female member, the late indomitable Liz Anne Bawden, mother of new councillor Belinda Bawden.

One or two of them were not particularly keen that someone so young and inexperienced – I had only been a councillor for two years – had been trusted with chairing the council. It came as a surprise to me as well.

There were some challenging issues to be debated, not least the siting of the proposed sewage works, at first planned for the Cobb Gate car park. The discussion got so heated that one councillor, the late Dennis Applebee, chased one member of public out of the Guildhall because he was so angry over an allegation of the council’s procrastination over the issue.

Councillor Scowen had an easier ride for his first meeting – only seven members present with half of the council having apologised for their absence – and a very short agenda with no matters to discuss other than the approval of minutes from the various committee meetings held. I can’t remember that happening before and it was all over in 37 minutes, not quite a record but near to it.

May I suggest that with the mayor and town clerk absent, the agenda was kept to a minimum with no obvious banana skins to help ease Councillor Scowen into his chairing duties. But he did just fine.

He had to deal with one prickly subject when former town and district councillor George Symonds, during the public forum, raised the issue of Roundup weed killer, which the council had decided should not be handled by the council’s outside staff, being given to a neighbouring authority, Axminster Town Council.

George got no response from the chair and when questioned about this at the end of the meeting Councillor Scowen said he had been advised that he did not have to make a response.

I have been banging on about the lack of a response from councillors when matters are raised during the public forum. But I thought things would improve when the mayor announced at his first meeting after being elected that if they were unable to answer questions at the meeting a response in writing would be sent to the person who raised it within ten days. It will be interesting to see whether this will be the case.

I’m not too worried about one council giving away surplus materials, etc. to another but more the moral position: if the weed killer is dangerous for our outside staff to use, doesn’t that also apply to those who will be handling over the Devon border?

Michelin star for former Lyme man

SON-of-Lyme Laurie Gear is really making a name for himself in the culinary world, having just picked up his first Michelin star.

Laurie is the son of the late Mr and Mrs Bill Gear, who lived in Anning Road. He is a former pupil of the Woodroffe School.

He and his wife Jacqueline opened the Artichoke Restaurant in Old Amersham, Buckingham, in 2002. Their restaurant was quick to achieve acclaim, having won a string of awards, and Laurie has cooked alongside such famous chefs as Raymond Blanc and Tom Kerridge.

Artichoke is included in the best 50 UK restaurants in the Good Food Guide 2019.

Woodmead Halls

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